First Romanian study of attitudes to sturgeon protection shows need of better cooperation

© Doru Oprișan

The results of the first national study of attitudes towards the conservation of Danube sturgeons in Romania were presented at a press conference in Bucharest today. The project “Joint actions to raise awareness on overexploitation of Danube sturgeons in Romania and Bulgaria” was also officially launched at the event in the presence of Romanian Minister for Water, Forests and Fisheries Lucia Ana Varga, Marian Chiriac from the National Agency for Fishing and Aquaculture, Roxana Cazacu from CITES in Romania, Gabriela Morozov from the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve and others.

“Our research shows that the sturgeon fishing ban, even if backed by tougher fines, is not sufficient to protect Danube sturgeons”, said Cristina Munteanu, National Project Coordinator for Romania.

“Through the Life + project we aim to create viable conditions for the populations of Danube sturgeons, but in order to do so, we also need a better cooperation between authorities and fishermen”, Munteanu said.

“Many of the fishermen who responded to our questionnaire over the past six months, recognize that their relationship with the authorities is not transparent enough, and that they do not have access to alternative sources of income”.

© Doru Oprișan

Minister Lucia Ana Varga at the event. © Doru Oprișan

In order to gain knowledge of the attitudes towards the conservation of Danube sturgeons and the efficiency of current measures, WWF conducted research among all stakeholders – fishermen along the Danube and from the Danube Delta, government representatives, enforcement agencies,  caviar producing companies, and the general public.

Although the interviewed fishermen said they agree that sturgeons need protection if they are to survive, the research shows that fishermen regard the current fishing ban with reluctance. Still, 90% of fishermen said they obey it. What is more 87% of fishermen said that they want the total fishing ban to be revoked immediately, while 96% want to keep the tradition of sturgeon fishing.

On the other hand, enforcement agencies and decision makers consider that the fishing ban would be more effective if it is supported by stronger fines. However, decision makers believe that more studies are needed in order to extend the fishing ban beyond 2015.

83% of sturgeon fishermen believe that fishing for sturgeons is not a threat, while 67% believe that stocks are dwindling. 68% of them see no alternative to fishing. As for poaching, 65% of fishermen believe that both those who catch sturgeon accidentally and do not release the fish, and poachers are a threat to the species. Also, 94% of fishermen would cooperate with the authorities provided that they comply with the law themselves, but only 45% believe that turning in poachers to the authorities is effective, while 39% think that it is useless.

“Those who fish illegally these species are very, very well organized, so that our mere presence in those areas is announced to those involved, and then the effects of our efforts are not what we want,” said Marian Chiriac from the National Agency for Fishing and Aquaculture.

Romania’s Minister-delegate for Rivers, Forestry and Aquaculture, Mrs Lucia Ana Varga added that the ministry will try to improve this situation.

“In the following period we will strengthen control and reorganize the National Agency for Fishing and Aquaculture in order to increase the number of inspectors and help them to make more rigorous checks”.

The first phase of the project also included a national telephone survey to test the knowledge and perception of the general public of sturgeon and caviar issues. Although the majority of respondents who knew about the species also knew that sturgeons are protected, 60% of them did not know that there is a fishing ban in place. 66% of respondents consider the caviar trade to be a threat, but 87% did not know the difference between legal and illegal caviar.

Research results suggest that a better regulation of fishing and caviar trade, supported by controls and higher fines will not ensure the long-term protection of sturgeon. The WWF study shows the need for more information on alternative sources of income, as indicated by fishermen and  companies producing caviar. This would be the first step to take in order to stop poaching, along with sturgeon population monitoring. Finally, there is also a clear need for the public to be better informed regarding sturgeons and CITES labeling requirements.

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